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Ackerman reports: "One of the most hawkish members of the U.S. Senate just said the strikes have killed 4,700 people. And his math raises questions."

An MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base. (photo: USAF/Lance Cheung)
An MQ-9 Reaper at Creech Air Force Base. (photo: USAF/Lance Cheung)

Death Toll From Drone Strikes Put at 4,700

By Spencer Ackerman, Wired

21 February 13


he government says you can't know how many people U.S. drone strikes have killed, because that's a state secret. But one of the most hawkish members of the U.S. Senate just said the strikes have killed 4,700 people. And his math raises questions.

That's what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) approvingly told an Easley, South Carolina, Rotary Club on Tuesday afternoon. It's the first public death toll provided by a U.S. government official for the signature method of killing in the U.S.' sprawling, global counterterrorism campaign.

"We've killed 4,700," Graham said, according to an Easley website. "Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we're at war, and we've taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida." Graham did not evidently offer an estimate of how many innocent people the drones have killed.

Graham staffers did not return voicemails and e-mails seeking elaboration. (We'll update if they do.) But that's a very high figure - at least as it pertains to the CIA's drone strikes, outside the declared battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is what the context of Graham's remarks make it seem like he's referring to. As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations blogs, that's on the highest end of the drone-death estimate compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from publicly available news reports. Zenko's compilation of the averages of non-governmental organizations' guesstimates for drone casualties is about 1,700 people lower.

The CIA declined to comment about whether Graham revealed classified information. Counting the death toll from drones is a notoriously imprecise, murky business.

Graham's death count would raise questions about the much-vaunted precision of the strikes. Using the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's count, the U.S. has launched between 416 and 439 drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia since the U.S. first successfully weaponized an MQ-1 Predator a decade ago. If Graham's right, each strike would have to kill more than 10 people. It's certainly possible - the 100-pound Hellfire missile carried by the drones is capable of it - but U.S. counterterrorism officials typically describe the drones as a tool geared for the targeting of a specific terrorist at a time, with minimal civilian casualties. (That isn't necessarily the case: Sometimes the CIA kills people with drones without knowing who exactly they are.)

Yet Graham's count is simultaneously low. Judging from the context of his remarks, he's evidently not counting the U.S. military's drone strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan. So the real number of deaths from the strikes between the covert CIA drone program and the U.S. military's still rarely acknowledged efforts is likely even higher.

It wouldn't be the first time that a U.S. senator has offhandedly revealed specific and unacknowledged information about the drones. In 2009, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, blabbed that the Pakistani government was hosting CIA drones for strikes on Pakistanis.

But Graham's disclosure underscores the extraordinary secrecy around the centerpiece of U.S. counterterrorism efforts - a military action in all but name, operated by an agency that need not explain to the public how it carries out the program. Even Feinstein, a big advocate of the CIA and its drones, acknowledged to Danger Room earlier this month that the CIA has a history of being deceitful with Congress about its other highly valued programs. And even after the CIA's likely next director, John Brennan, acknowledged that the CIA performs such lethal strikes, the Justice Department still maintains that even the existence of its drone program is a state secret, so that it need not disclosure information about it in court. Whatever Graham's intentions in stating a death toll - regardless of its accuracy - that secrecy is the most prominent, visible fact about the drones. your social media marketing partner


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+16 # RMDC 2013-02-21 22:06
4700 is probably vastly under-estimated . The death toll from the US global war on terror is probably in the several millions now.

"Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that." I just can't believe Graham said this. Knowingly killing innocent people is pre-meditated murder. And he simply "hates that."

What if someone said following 911 and the death of 3000 people, "I hate it when they blow up tall buildings. But what the heck. It happens.

As a senator who voted for all of these war measures, Graham is complicit in every murder.
+3 # BobbyLip 2013-02-22 05:18
Lindsey Graham doesn't have enough fingers and toes to count to 4,700. One of the most egregious senators ever!
+3 # qasee 2013-02-22 10:00
I'm sure that 4700 number is a way low estimate. How can they have any idea how many when they have no one on the ground to count. Plus I'm sure that the civilian deaths out number the true terrorists 10 to 1. And don't these fool know that just causes more enemy's? Well, I guess they do, they just don't care because it keeps the money flowing to the war machine.
+1 # Activista 2013-02-22 18:35
" U.S. is establishing a Predator drone base in Niger that will assist the French military operation in Northern Mali but could also mark the beginning of a longer term surveillance mission in Western Africa.
President Obama notified senior Congressional leaders Friday that a force of approximately 100 American military personnel is now in Niger to set up the base."
Uber Terrorist USA and Obama - killing is going on ... SICK
+1 # Activista 2013-02-22 19:35
USA had blocked a U.N. Security Council statement condemning a car bomb attack in Damascus that killed over 50 ... search for images ... USA IS SUPPORTING TERRORISM ...
+1 # RMDC 2013-02-23 05:39
I would bet my entire income for a year that the explosives in that car came from the US via one of its clients. Same with all the weapons the so-called rebels have.

The US is the greatest terrorist nation on earth and in all human history. The times we are living in will go down in history as "The Age of American Terror Campaigns."

The US has always used terrorism to brutalize people into submission but it is just worse now. The torture campaigns of the catholic church called the Inquisition are the root of terrorism.
0 # Activista 2013-02-23 12:18
Yes - the car bombing is Made by CIA .. USA trained "freedom fighter" in Kabul to attack MARKET ... maximize civilian death under Reagan .. the Afghan war was won by terror ... and terrorists noticed ... now the target is USA ...
+1 # Glen 2013-02-23 07:44
And not only does the U.S. support terrorism, it also PROVIDES terrorists after training them. There is no mystery concerning ongoing skirmishes and widening fields of attack. And that's all it is: the U.S. attacking and killing.

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